“When Maoists in Jharkhand sneeze, Sonebhadra and Mirzapur districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh catch cold.” This is how BJP MLC Shyam Singh describes the import of the Maoists’ call to voters here.
Maoists are asking people in Sonebhadra, Chandauli and Mirzapur to vote for “their candidates”. “And their call carries some weight,” says Singh. Fifty-two constituencies go to polls on May 3, apart from a by-election to the Robertsganj parliamentary constituency.
The Maoists’ call, however, is a clear deviation from the past since they are traditionally known to issue ‘boycott polls’ diktats. What has made the Naxals change their stand?
Kameshwar Baitha, a CPI (Maoist) sub-zonal commander lodged in Garhwa jail in Jharkhand, is the one who has scripted the shift. Billed as a rebel with a difference, Baitha finished a close second as BSP nominee in the recently concluded Palamu (Jharkhand) parliamentary bypoll. His next target is to consolidate his hold across the border in Uttar Pradesh, where he has always been a force to reckon with. The 54-year-old has 12 cases of extremist activities pending against him in Sonebhadra. Jharkhand police claim Baitha's son-in-law is a government official and one of his in-laws a police inspector in UP.
“The Maoists have always been debating the feasibility of contesting elections. But, I am no longer a Maoist. Once in jail, the membership ceases. I am only a BSP party worker, and my men are in Uttar Pradesh trying to ensure that the elephant has a cakewalk,” Baitha explains.
The explanation, however, has stoked fears across the border. Not surprisingly, the Samajwadi Party is making the loudest noises. Vijay Singh Gaur, SP MLA from Dudhi constituency, says “this Maoist diktat is a plan hatched by Mayawati”.
But there are takers for Baitha’s kind of politics. Says Kailash Ghasia of Nagwa, “Politicians remember us only during polls. They are not worth risking our lives for. We should vote the way the wind blows.”